Theater Review: CHICAGO (National Tour at Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago)

Post image for Theater Review: CHICAGO (National Tour at Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago)

by Lawrence Bommer on May 11, 2016

in Theater-Chicago,Tours


Now in its twentieth year, this slimmed-down, near-concert version of Kander and Ebb’s cynical and enthralling musical features, as the smoothly lying lawyer Billy Flynn, John O’Hurley (J. Peterman in Seinfeld and a fixture on Dancing with the Stars. (He last appeared in the show in the 2011 tour which played the Oriental Theatre.) It’s a sardonic case of art-mutilates-life: As the press-wheedling lawyer in this sexy-strutting, Tony-winning revival of Chicago, O’Hurley exactly recalls Johnnie Cochran at his ingratiating worst. His deadpan asides and silky put-downs are passive aggression at its most insidious.

CHICAGO Men (834x667)

Running only through Sunday at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in this national tour, Chicago proves again how everything old is new again. For Maurine Watkins’ crime-based comedy (an amoral companion to The Front Page, its equally cynical contemporary), the time is 1926, when a shyster flim-flams a credulous jury with razzle dazzle. Following acquittal, Chicago murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly–former rivals turned reluctant partners–enjoy brief vaudeville glory at, among many venues, our old McVickers Theatre. Then “Chicago’s killer-dillers” sink into the obscurity that was interrupted by two unpunished slayings.


Forget the Jazz Age backdrop: this “drop dead” musical is as cunningly current as the Casey Anthony or Oscar Pistorius trials. The target for Kander and Ebb’s wicked 1975 musical, vibrantly restored in Walter Bobbie’s stream-lined staging, is phony celebrities, a prurient press that wallows in the vices it pretends to scorn, a bottom-feeding public who prefer killers to victims, and the cynical credo that showbiz sucks on somebody else’s sorrow.

Chicago_IMG_2874_JohnOHurley Credit Jeremy Daniel

Add to this deja vu our tabloid/talk-show penchant for forgiving confessional criminals who plead for pity over punishment–and Chicago seems as contemptuous as a former IMF honcho under condo arrest.

IMG_4690_Dylis Croman as Roxie Hart Credit Jeremy DanielTold as vaudeville (with the 20 songs depicting “acts of desperation”), Chicago moves a lot faster than justice. Set inside gold frames (the inner one enclosing the first-rate band, the outer the in-your-face stage action), the hit-and-run scenes shake and shimmy. Stripped of sets (who needs a chandelier or helicopter with songs like these?), Bobbie focuses on the song-and-dance glories that Bob Fosse bequeathed to Ebb’s infectious score and that Anne Reinking lovingly reconstructs.

I treasure the memory of seeing Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera on March 1, 1978, in a touring production at the old Blackstone Theatre, as well as the late Michael Barto’s 1994 Prologue Theatre revival. But this fiercely concentrated second-coming invents its own showbiz heaven. Supple as panthers, the silky-smooth, superbly-conditioned cast slink through “All That Jazz” till the theater risks meltdown. “Razzle Dazzle,” spiced with a shower of silver sequins, a mirror globe and a descending bank of backlights, amounts to a Broadway orgasm.


At the vortex of Reinking’s carnivorous, bump-and-grind choreography (here recreated by David Bushman) is four-star bravura work. Terra C. MacLeod’s Velma is hilarious as half a dance team in her frenzied “I Can’t Do It Alone.” Remorselessly red-headed, Dylis Croman turns Roxie Hart into a lethal mix of Jean Harlow and Leona Helmsley, sweet and sour in the same instant. O’Hurley has contagious fun swaggering among simpering, feather-fanning chorines in “All I Care About,” and big-bosomed Roz Ryan, as a Cook County dominatrix-matron, tears the soul from her ragtime anthem “When You’re Good To Mama.” Rotund Paul C. Vogt in a role that fits him like his ugly costumes, is suitably self-effacing as Roxie’s nebbish husband Amos and, memorably, D. Ratell’s toxic depiction of a sob-sister reporter is as deceptive as her crime stories.

Chicago’s spring just got a lot hotter.


photos by Catherine Ashmore, Paul Kolnik and Jeremy Daniel


presented by Broadway in Chicago
Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St
ends on May 15, 2016
for tickets, call 800.775.2000 or visit Broadway In Chicago

tour continues
for dates and cities, visit Chicago The Musical

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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